Mr. Picarella is not a mister. He’s a 13-year-old kid. He’s my kid!
My wife and I try to protect him from the world, but I promise, we don’t shelter him. We let him ride his bike to school, though he has to text us when he leaves and arrives. We’ve let him go on trips with grandparents and other family members, though he’s only been a few hours from us. We don’t smother him. We just check on him a lot via phone calls, text messages and sometimes even video chat.
So when our son’s school hit us with the opportunity to send him to Washington, D.C., with his class, we jumped at it—sort of. Great life experience, but he’d be on the other side of the country. Educational, but he’d be over 2,600 miles away. Lots of fun, but did I mention how far from us he’d be?
“He’s 13 and he’s gotta grow up some time,” I said to my wife. “Does that time have to be now?”
Too late. We’d already signed him up, raised money and put it toward the trip. We had to grow up.
I hate the unknown. You never know what you’re going to get. In a movie, you know how it’ll end. Sure, there may be twists and turns, but the world will be back in balance by the time the credits roll.
Life, unfortunately, isn’t like that. That’s why my wife and I try to control all elements. We put our son through traveler’s boot camp before sending him on the trip, teaching him how to unpack and repack his luggage each day, how to carry his wallet and how to not get into a stranger’s windowless van.
“We should’ve gotten him earplugs,” I told my wife as the bus drove away with our child. “Once, when we were kids, my brother and I were on a plane and my brother’s ears almost burst from the air pressure. He was in tears, screaming, and the flight attendants couldn’t do a thing about it.”
My wife reminded me that our son didn’t have issues with flying or with his ears. I knew that, but, having gone over everything we could with the kid, I needed something else to worry about.
After following the bus to the freeway, we eventually had to turn back for home. Our son was gone, but not forever, I hoped. Back at the house, I tried to take my mind off the matter. I turned on the TV. This is real: I watched the airplane crash scene in “Cast Away.” I changed the channel . . . This is real, too: I watched a good portion of “Sully,” the movie about the plane that crash-landed on the Hudson River. I settled on watching “Flight,” another airplane crash movie. Yeah, that was real.
During the movie, my wife and I used the Find My Friends app on our phones to get our son’s location as the bus carried him to the airport, and no, I don’t think that was taking it too far. I set an alert on the app to let me know when he arrived at his layover in Newark, NJ, but since I was constantly watching the Find My Friends app, setting an alert was, in that particular case, taking it too far.
How, you ask, did we track our kid using Find My Friends when cell phones and their tracking systems are shut off while in flight? We downloaded the airlines app and tracked the plane, that’s how.
“They’re not following the line on the map,” my wife said when she saw the plane icon off course.
“GPS isn’t perfect,” I assured her. “One time I set my GPS for this restaurant and it took me to a bush. The restaurant was just around the corner, though, so I’m sure it’s fine.”
I sounded calm and collected, but deep down I worried. I knew I’d be calmer once the kid landed.
Once he landed, I only that worried he’d get lost, get into trouble, prove to the world that my wife and I are bad parents, or worse, I’d come up with something worse to stress about. In reality, all went well for the first couple of days. And then our child did what no child should ever do. He sent this message: I’m being pushed over the edge and I’m gonna snap.
We didn’t want to be too controlling and call him. Through texts, we learned his roommates were leaving their stuff all over the hotel room and on top of our son’s stuff, and he couldn’t get to his luggage.
“You can’t control other people,” we told him. “Where do you get that?”
Our son was also very tired from a long couple of days and he was getting a bad cold.
My wife and I tried to take over but the kid stopped us.
“You can’t control other people,” he texted us. “I can handle it. And it won’t ruin my trip.”
So much for “being pushed over the edge.” Where does he get this instinct to be so dramatic? In the end, however, he did handle everything. He uncovered his suitcase, got sleep and eventually linked up with a chaperone to get a decongestant and earplugs for the flight home. (I knew we needed earplugs!)
When the bus returned to school, my wife and I let out a sigh of relief. We hadn’t breathed since the kid left. Our boy stepped off looking taller, with a deeper voice and carrying the day’s edition of The Washington Post. He was all grown up. He hadn’t brushed his teeth in six days, but what’s that have to do with being a man?
This story appeared in The Acorn Newspapers of Los Angeles and Ventura counties, CA, in April of 2017. You can find other stories like it from Michael Picarella in his book, “Everything Ever After (Confessions of a Family Man),” and at MichaelPicarellaColumn.com.